Firstly, the vegetable garden with some deep beds on the right and our polytunnel covering 45 square metres of land.
Inside the polytunnel. This was taken on May Day so things are now a lot busier inside.
The boatyard. The black boat on the trailer is mine. The others belong to friends.
A beautiful formal garden, which I hate the sight of as nothing can be eaten. It is to become the orchard.
Another quarter acre or thereabouts. It will become a wood to supplement whatever is found drifting in the sea or falls off the trees in the picture above.
It is surprising how much can be crammed into an acre. I wouldn't want anymore land unless it was solely for wood.
At this moment in time we can see no reason why we should be off-grid. Nothing would please us more than to deny the government of tax and public service levy totalling over a third of my electricity bill. The thing is, we just don't use that much electricity. When we moved in, all the previous owners' 150W incandescent bulbs were replaced with 6W compact fluorescents. The odd higher wattage ones where needed. In all, the total wattage of all the new bulbs is less than one 150W incandescent.
We bought a fridge and a washing machine and made sure that they were A class energy efficient. Every night we make sure that nothing is left on standby. During the day, we always flick the mains switch anyway if we turn off the television. We wait for a full load of washing before filling the machine. We don't use electricity to heat anything, except for a toaster that produces toast in a minute unlike the poor gas grill that would take an hour if we let it. No electric heater. No microwave. No electric kettle.
In total we use about 3kW/h of power per day. If we put up photovoltaic panels and charged batteries it would take about 20 years to see any savings. It just doesn't make sense. Deep-cycle batteries don't last forever so we would need to replace these every so often. Maybe we would never recoup the cost. So, the money can be better invested elsewhere. During the summer, when we get the time, we shall construct a solar water heater. At present we spend about 500 euros a year on heating oil. In the warmer months the boiler is just boiling hot water for washing with. That could be done with a single solar water heating panel.
When we install a stove in a few weeks time then we shall see how much we can do without the boiler for heating the radiators during the winter. Next year, we will have a good idea as to if we can phase out the oil boiler altogether. The stove will cost us in the region of 1000 euros and the work on solar water heating about another 500 euros. That will show a saving after about 3 years. Now, that's a saving!
This will be our first full year at the property. It's about one acre in size and is situated in South Kerry, Ireland with a five minute walk to the sea. The past three months have seen much planting. Our polytunnel has a lot of early season potatoes in it. We have the Cara potato variety in the tunnel and some Sharpe's Express outside in the deep beds. Always dig deep beds carefully on recently acquired land as you don't know what's under there. The mains water pipe, for instance, which the fork was stuck through whilst turning the soil. It's repaired it now but it was many hours of work on a very cold day.
The tunnel has eight tomato bush seedlings in old 16 litre paint drums. We are growing large Italian pasata tomatoes for making pasta and chile sauces. We never eat raw tomatoes so we won't be growing any salad varieties. Being close to the sea we have a good supply of those blue plastic 55 gallon drums that break free from nearby muscle farms. The barrels are anchored to the sea bed and the muscles attach themselves to the ropes below. It only takes a single storm for a couple of barrels to break free and miraculously end up in the workshop where they are cut in two and used for growing small vegetables like spring onions and carrots.
We also have young trees in the tunnel. Mostly alder, some cuttings from a golden willow, mountain ash, and from seed we have oak, horse chestnut, birch and sycamore. The land is quite rocky under the few inches of top soil so it will take some time to plant them all out. We have planted an apple tree and have some cider apple varieties, which we will also plant out during the year. In the years to come it is hoped to have a good crop of apples for cider production. The other trees will be felled for burning in the stove.
We are still researching stoves at the moment. We don't think we will get one with a boiler for the radiators. If we get a big enough one then it can heat the whole of the downstairs. We intend putting in a partition to stop warm air flowing upstairs and will use the oil boiler for those rooms above. Alternatively we might construct a warm air duct to supply the upstairs. It all depends on how many BTUs the stove can supply. The ones we are looking at are 50,000 BTU (14.5 kW), which should heat a substantial amount of floor space. The weather is very mild here. The winters are never as cold as in England and the warmer weather returns in April until the end of September obviating the need for any heating at all. Passive heating from the sun is good enough.
The property had a donkey house (prison, from the size of it) standing idle so one of the wooden walls was kicked out and it's now a very fine wood shed. It is filled with a steady supply of driftwood, dead wood from surrounding forests and anything trimmed from trees on our and, which are mostly holly and rhododendron (Hence the growing of other varieties in the tunnel).
We live on the northern shore of Kenmare sound and at least once a week our skiff is taken out to sea to forage for anything useful. The boat was made by a team of us last year. This really is a very quick and cheap way to get a boat. Twelve of us, with varying skills, took just four weekends to build twelve 14 feet long sailing skiffs. Ours is usually rowed around the little islets nearby but for longer expeditions a sail, made out of an old polytarp, is put up and when the mackerel are about a hundred or so can be caught in an hour. If not fishing or sailing for pleasure a bow saw or chainsaw is carried onboard and used to cut up logs and tree trunks on the beaches and brought home for storing. Seaweed is also collected for composting and mulching in the vegetable garden.
From a materialist former life we are always surprised at how we have learnt to make things for ourselves, often from things that other people have discarded. Be it drums for planting vegetables or a trailer (minus a single wheel) that someone couldn't be bothered to repair so dumped into a ditch. We gave it a month to see if anyone intended returning and taking it home but no. So, we took the boat trailer and placed the broken trailer on top of it. A new rubber suspension unit was ordered on the Internet to replace the old broken leaf suspension. We will replace the rusted metal sides of the trailer with treated plywood sheet and then we will have a fine trailer for transporting logs, seaweed and building materials from the local hardware store.
Next month will see us digging up some early potatoes. A few carrots might be ready too. In a few months all our vegetables will come from our own land and not from the supermarket. This is a concerted effort not to eat processed food where possible. Firstly, fresh produce tastes better. It's much cheaper as it was grown from seed. Every processing step adds to the cost. That is what they call "value add". If we were to sell excess produce of our own then we would want to add value to it by processing it. Selling raw material is not a good way to make a profit. But, if you are looking after the pennies, then buying raw meterials (or better still producing your own) is best.
We are still looking at each bit of our land and determing where to plant the bulk of our trees. We also want chickens, maybe a pig or two so they will need a place to roam. There is to be an orchard of six trees as well. Not to mention an observatory for a telescope. There is still time for a hobby when not exhausted from a day's work, which also involves a little computer repair and website building for some extra cash to pay for tools and projects for me and accountancy work for Rosie.
As far as this blog is concerned we will publish all our research and activities. So far we have added many links (on the right of this page) to useful magazines. We don't subscribe to any of them but they do have lots of good information on their websites, including free reprints of previous articles. we must have a few hundred links on many useful subjects and will order them, for you to look through, in the coming weeks.
To call it an alternative lifestyle would be wrong. For us, there is no alternative. With the UN about to announce that the majority of people in the world now live in urban sprawl, we believe that such a lifestyle is unsustainable. Everybody in the world appears to want to live the American Dream. However, if we all wished to do that then it's not possible as there aren't enough resources on the planet. It amazes us when we read American alternative lifestyle websites and see people proudly announcing how they have just installed an array of photovoltaic solar cells to provide enough electricity for their daily 30kW/h need. Thirty kilowatts???!!! It would take us 10 days to use that much power! If American good lifers live profligately then how is the world's entire population going to live like the average American gas guzzling, pizza packing, consumer behemoth?
No, there's no alternative to what we're doing. We don't call it sustainable living either. We simply call it sensible living. We don't live in squalor though. We live in a modern house. Seven bedrooms and three bathrooms to be precise. And, we still only use 3kW/h of power per day! There's no alternative and we shall detail here what we've done to live sensibly.
Life here is far better than what we had in London. The constant desire for goods and the money to pay for it all. Friends? Well, my mobile phone had two numbers on it. In a mega city population of 12 million my phone had my house number and my parents' number. Here, with just a few thousand spread out over hundreds of square miles, my phone has thirty numbers stored on it. All of them friends, who we meet regularly and who think as we do.
I had a terrible cholesterol problem before coming here. I've now lost over 2 stone (over 30 pounds) in weight. No longer do I eat processed food. We use fresh ingredients, much of it grown on our own land, and it's all healthy eating. More than that. It's cheap. I read an article entitled How cheaply can one eat? and it mentioned one simple thing. The cheaper the food, the more healthy it is for you. Processed food costs a lot and it's bad for you. Plant a few cents worth of seed in the ground and when the vegetables have grown they will be far healthier than a pre-packed meal or takeaway and will have cost next to nothing.
No, there's no alternative to what we're doing. Fifty years from now, Europe will be a different place. With westerners pricing themselves out of their jobs, and the east taking those jobs, we will have to get used to being second class citizens in the world. And that means living sensibly so that you can afford to survive. There is no such thing as self-sufficiency. As Dean Martin sang, "Everybody needs somebody sometime". We can't survive alone. But, with sensible living and a real community spirit, we can survive until the rest of the world has developed and priced itself out of our jobs.
In this blog we will share all our research with you, absolutely free. We're not one of those people who want to profit from green issues as that just seems totally against the whole ethos of what we are doing. It's in our interest for people to do like us and quickly. We left the money grabbing world of The City of London for a better life. Why should we bring our greedy ways with us?
If you have a question. Fire away.